Aberdeen, Scotland – Jim Holtgrieve remembers, just like most people do, where he was on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked U.S. soil using airliners as weapons that brought down the World Trade Center towers, damaged the Pentagon and killed more 3,000 American citizens.
“I was in Winston-Salem, N.C., at a golf tournament when my wife called me and told me to turn on the television,” Holtgrieve, the 2011 USA Walker Cup captain, recalled. “Not even a minute after I turned it on, I saw the second tower go down. I couldn’t help but think right then about who I’m going to know that lost a friend or family member. It was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had.”
Ten years later, America hasn’t forgotten. Neither have her friends.
Here at the 43rd Walker Cup Match at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, there will be tributes to the victims and heroes of that day of infamy exactly a decade ago.
Holtgrieve, 63, of St. Louis, began the process of remembrance on Saturday night when he passed out a gift to each of his 10 players intended to stir a little national pride. On Sunday morning he was going to touch their hearts by reading a letter from former President George W. Bush. It was Bush’s great-grandfather, George Herbert Walker, who played an instrumental role in the start of the biennial amateur showcase and who donated the cup that bears his name.
Then the USA captain will send out his charges for the second day of foursomes and singles competition with special commemorative caps. The hats were a collaboration from a few of Holtgrieve’s golfing friends who lost two sons and several employees. “It’s ironic that they all picked the same [design] that we’re going to use,” said Holtgrieve.
And when this friendly two-day golf competition concludes Sunday evening, a request will be made for a moment of silence during the closing ceremonies.
Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, is responsible for adding the brief but solemn interlude to what is otherwise a festive conclusion to the week.
“We’re very aware of the feelings of the people of the United States – and there’s a strong feeling here about it, too,” said Dawson, who proposed the idea to USGA executive director Mike Davis about three months ago. “It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years. When we realized a few months ago in our planning what the date was, we decided we had to do something. We felt strongly about it.”
“The fact that the R&A came to us and said they wanted to do something special on our behalf I think is a wonderful gesture,” said Davis, who remembers being in his office at Golf House in Far Hills, N.J., when the attacks occurred and seeing the smoke from the burning twin towers in lower Manhattan. “Peter called and asked if we would be OK with this, and we thought that was a very, very neat thing to do.
“You know, it’s the kind of thing, frankly, that comes naturally when you’re involved in an event like this,” Davis added, referring to the longtime tradition of the Walker Cup as a friendly competition between the USA and Great Britain & Ireland.
Team USA leads the biennial series 34-7-1 and has won the last three matches, but trails by two points, 7-5, going into Day 2 of foursomes and singles. The GB&I squad hasn’t slept on a Saturday night lead since 1995 at Royal Porthcawl in Wales.
The immense pride the Americans harbor on this notably poignant day in U.S. history should mitigate much of the pressure they’ll encounter as they attempt to retain the cup.
“If you can’t get excited on a day like this, playing for your country on the anniversary of 9/11, then there’s something wrong,” said reigning U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft of Denton, Texas. “It’s not a good day for the USA, but we’re going to do what we can with what’s happening here to show our support for our country. We’ll definitely be fired up, I think, to win all of our matches.”
Added Harris English of Thomasville, Ga.: “It’s truly awesome to be able to play for my country on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. When you stop and think about what you’re playing for; it’s just golf, yeah, but you’re still thinking about the people in the armed forces, the fire and police who responded that day, all those who lost their lives … we’re playing for them. That’s just an amazing feeling.”
Said English’s former University of Georgia teammate, Russell Henley of Macon, Ga.: “It’s an honor to represent the United States, but it’s especially meaningful given the circumstances. It’s going to be special. I’m excited, but I don’t know exactly how I’ll feel when I get out there.”
Indeed, it’s difficult to know how to feel, especially a continent away, when golf can seem so insignificant in the larger picture. But patriotism can be expressed in various ways, and on Saturday night, it was Henley who said in the team room, “Tomorrow will be a special day, and we'll fight hard because it's 9/11.”
“That speaks to the respect and the honor of all of these young guys on my team,” Holtgrieve said.
Most of the media attention and memorial tributes have focused on New York and the two airliners (American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175) that leveled the World Trade Center. This is understandable considering the symbolic importance of the twin towers in the nation’s largest metropolitan area.
But there were two targets on that terrible day – New York and Washington, D.C. – and there were two other planes hijacked for the sole purpose of mendacious assault on the nation’s capital.
United 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pa., killing all on board. The hijackers intended to strike the White House or Capitol Hill with the Boeing 757, but they were thwarted when the 40 passengers and crew fought back and downed the plane. That was after American Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, killing 184 people.
The attack on the Pentagon evokes notable plaintiveness among USGA members.
The site upon which the Pentagon sits, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., was originally used for turfgrass research conducted by the USGA’s Green Section. U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists Charles V. Piper, and Russell A. Oakley established The Arlington Turf Gardens in 1916. The Green Section was formed four years later and cooperated with the USDA to expand the research facility until the War Department appropriated the land just before America entered World War II.
In an eerie coincidence, construction began on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 1941.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose material has previously appeared on USGA websites.